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What does 5G mean for cybersecurity?

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The buzz around 5G is reaching a fevered pitch – barely a day goes by where it isn’t in the news. We’ve heard about the data capacity and speed increases, lower latency and lower power consumption. But what exactly does 5G means?

According to Babak Beheshti, IEEE Member and Interim Dean, College of Engineering and Computing Sciences, New York Institute of Technology, “The very design philosophy of 5G is based on network heterogeneity. This means that the network can be a combination of technologies such as Wi-Fi® and LTE.”

The meaning of 5G depends on the context of the discussion, but it’s likely to include a combination of technologies. This heterogeneity makes security more complex. However, there are already some exciting developments in the pipeline for 5G and IoT device security.

“According to T-Mobile US, 4G information being carried across mobile networks was not always encrypted. In 5G, end-to-end encryption is intended to provide much stronger safeguards for data privacy,” Beheshti says.

“Since IoT devices don’t often have robust user interfaces, using a QR code lets manufacturers create security protocols that can be operated without the use of a keyboard. The QR code is just a way to encode data. Basically, you’re encoding a public key that then can be used to establish and bootstrap trust. Only the peer device that has the private key can decode that”, says Dorothy Stanley, IEEE Member and Chair of the IEEE 802.11 Working Group

So upcoming security technologies are promising. What can consumers do to make sure their current IoT setups are secure?

For Kayne McGladrey, IEEE Member and Director of Security and Information Technology at Pensar Development, “Consumers should use the ‘guest’ network of their home Wi-Fi routers as a dedicated network for IoT devices, so if one of those devices were compromised, the threat actor can’t easily pivot to more valuable data.” That’s the case for newer devices, he says. “For older, cheap, IP-based security cameras and digital video recorders (DVRs), the easiest way to secure them is to recycle them responsibly as there often are no security updates available.” The ability to update devices over their lifetime is essential to security, and should factor into buying decisions, he says.

Han Guangjie, IEEE Senior Member and professor at Hohai University, seconds this point: “Check and update the IoT device firmware. If IoT devices have exploitable vulnerabilities, manufacturers often identify and fix problems before the hacker can access the device’s environment.”

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